Search This Blog

Chapter 19 Bedevilment beginnings

“We've got company coming Ben. I'm pretty sure it's Ungar with the brandy. I can see infrared signatures of men fanning out in the woods. These guys aren't very stealthy, I get an occasional glimpse of them on my visible light cameras.” Ben looked up at the vid and saw some movements along the treeline. The black miasma emitting from the carriage tractor's exhaust system heralded Ungar's imminent arrival. The tractor and its ornate carriage lurched to a stop about one hundred yards from the ship. Ungar climbed out, laboriously removed five crates of brandy and set them in the grass.

“What do you think we should do Celeste?” asked Ben. “He can't carry these to the ship, at least not without taking a week to do it.” “I'll send out a loader robot to carry him and the crates to the ship. There are way too many armed men out there to risk you helping,” said Celeste. The lift on the ship's underside lowered a robotic platform on treads to the ground. It rolled off and stopped next to the crates. Ungar loaded them, and with some trepidation climbed on and sat. “I'll deploy the ramp on the opposite side of the ship Ben. It will provide cover from Davin's men. Have Ungar walk up, and I'll move the crates into the ship.” Ben went to the hatch and watched as the robotic platform pulled up to the ramp. Ungar stood, carefully stepped off and slowly slogged up into the ship.

“Greetings Ungar and welcome,” Ben said smiling. “I hope you had a good trip. Please follow me to the salon and have a seat.” Ungar followed Ben, eyed the seat he sat in last time and carefully sat down. On the table in front of him was a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and crackers. “Celeste will join us shortly, she is looking at your trade goods. Was the stun gun a satisfactory gift?” Ungar swallowed and cleared his throat. “Yes, the Senior Elder and the Marshal were most pleased, and they want more. I brought you five cases of our very best brandy to trade for five more of them, that is if it's acceptable to you.” Ben looked straight at Ungar. “I gather it's important for you that you get these in trade?” “Yes. The Senior Elder Davin doesn't like to be disappointed. Failure is always punished as the Oneness has always dictated.”

Celeste walked into the salon followed by a small bot carrying a bottle of Ungar's brandy and sat on the couch furthest from Ungar. Turning to Ben, she said, “Would you please pour yourself a glass and let me know what you think of the brandy.” Ben took the bottle, poured some, and took a small sip. “What did the Elders think of the stun gun?” asked Celeste. “They apparently liked it. It was tested on me, and they want more.” “Do you have children Ungar?” asked Celeste. “I have two children. My son Toma was drafted into the security forces. He did not survive the training. Like me, he was a bookish sort of boy and not well suited for violence, but he had no choice. My daughter Lora was moved to the women's quarters when she was fourteen. We now only get to see her on occasion.”

Celeste stared hard at Ungar for a moment, then looked off into space. “Ungar please look at the vid. Is this your daughter?” The images of the three women who received the tablet in the box appeared. A startled Ungar blurted out, “Yes, she was the first face I saw. How did you do that? Is she okay?” “I think she is fine Ungar. The day Davin and the Elders first came to our ship, she and two others were watching from the woods. After the elders precipitously exited, I spotted them. I sent a small bot out with a tablet and some food and drink near them. One ran out of the woods and took the box.”

Celeste looked at Ungar. “Do you really believe there is a Oneness? No one else will hear your answer but us.” Ungar fidgeted, took a gulp of his wine, and shrugged. “I have my doubts, and the Elders act less than holy.” Ben asked, “Ungar, do you know where the sacred chamber is?” Ungar nodded, “Yes, I have been by it many times.” Ben glanced at Celeste, lifted an eyebrow and heard “Yes.”  He leaned towards Ungar, “Would you like to see what is inside? We can show you?” Ungar slowly nodded again, and the vid started. Ben and Celeste both watched Ungar's face as curiosity faded, then contorted and twisted as he watched. Celeste stopped the vid midway and advanced it. The scene now showed a barely alive beaten and bloody young woman being roughly shoved back in the crate and it tumbled down into the shaft.

Ungar shakily swallowed the last of his wine. Ben took his glass, refilled it and gave it back. Ungar whispered, “Was that real? I knew the girl, she was a cleaner like my daughter. How did you do this?” “It was all too real Ungar,” said Celeste. A tiny drone, the size of a wasp, flew into the room,  landed on the edge of Ungar's glass and looked up at him. Ungar's gaze shifted to the vid now showing him sitting in the chair. The drone flew away to the ship's hold.

“Ungar, there is no Oneness or sacred book. The Elders use this fiction along with their security forces to keep you, and the others enslaved for their personal benefit. We can help you change this if you desire,” said Ben. “But how? They have armed men with weapons and funds. We have nothing.” “That's not true Ungar, you have us to help,” averred Ben, “And as you have seen, we have some powerful tools. Do you want to help stop Davin and the Elders?” “Yes, I do.” 

Celeste chimed in, “We need to recruit trusted allies, particularly the women who suffer the most. Start with your daughter. Urge her to use the tablet to talk to me when no one else is around and to keep it very hidden. In the meantime, we'll make the Elders very uncomfortable as a distraction. Ben, would you please get Ungar five stun guns, and there is a pill in the replicator for him.” Ben jumped up and went aft. He reappeared a couple of minutes later with the stun guns in a cloth bag, set it next to Ungar, and then handed him the pill.

Celeste said, “Ungar, some Elders including Davin aren't going to feel well shortly and likely you a little bit. You will know when it happens. I would suggest you not get too far away from jakes. This won't kill them, but they will be very sick for about three days. This pill will stop you from getting too uncomfortable. At the same time since you are also a bit ill, it will take any suspicion away from you. Please take it right now while we watch. With a gulp of wine, the pill disappeared. Tell Davin we will trade 100 units of the mineral Rhabdophane for a much more powerful and larger stun gun that can be used on entire crowds.” With that Ben stood, “Ungar I will escort you to the ramp now, have a safe journey back, and we will see you again and talk more.” Ben watched as Ungar slowly made his way to the carriage with his box and in a cloud of belching smoke he disappeared into the woods.

Ben walked back into the salon and sat down next to Celeste. “What's next on the agenda?” With a nasty smile, Celeste said, “I'm cooking up a big batch of a nasty bug for the Elders, and brewing a fungus that loves to eat soybean oil and poops a sludge.” The vid lit up with an image of a small industrial facility surrounded by tanks adjacent to a power generating station belching a familiar looking black smoke. “Here is their soybean oil processing plant.” The image zoomed in towards a large stand-alone tank with a line of carriage tractors next to it. “This appears to be the fueling station. A great place for my fungus to thrive. I'll send a drone out after dark and see if there is a vent we can dump some into. It will take a few days to work, but we have the time.

Let's have lunch outside Ben. I'll cook something healthy for you. By the time we're done Ungar should be there, and we can watch what happens. How was Ungar's brandy?” “Very good, I think you should sample it and add to the galley's inventory.”